Desmoid Tumor: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2022

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the changes and medical problems that can be a sign of a desmoid tumor. Use the menu to see other pages.

What are the symptoms and signs of a desmoid tumor?

A desmoid tumor can develop in almost any soft tissue of the body. The types of symptoms that people have from a desmoid tumor depend on where it starts and its size. People with a desmoid tumor may experience one or more of the following symptoms or signs. Symptoms are changes that you can feel in your body. Signs are changes in something measured, like taking your blood pressure or doing a lab test. Together, symptoms and signs can help describe a medical problem. Sometimes, people with a desmoid tumor do not have any of the symptoms and signs described below. Or, the cause of a symptom may be a medical condition that is not a desmoid tumor.

The first sign of a desmoid tumor may be a firm, painless lump or swelling in the arm, leg, chest, neck, or abdomen. Sometimes, the lump is painful. Most lumps are not a desmoid tumor. However, it is important to talk with your doctor about any lumps that are larger than 2 inches (5 centimeters), grow larger, or are painful, regardless of their location.

Because a desmoid tumor develops in flexible, elastic tissues or deep spaces in the body, the tumor can often push normal tissue out of its way as it grows. Therefore, the tumor may sometimes grow quite large before it causes symptoms.

Symptoms may include:

  • Soreness or pain caused by the tumor pressing on nearby nerves, muscles, or blood vessels

  • Tingling or a feeling of “pins and needles,” when the tumor presses on local nerves or blood vessels

  • Limping or other difficulties moving the legs or feet

  • Difficulty moving the arms or hands

  • Pain

Intra-abdominal desmoid tumors may also cause some of the symptoms above, as well as those related to a blocked bowel, including:

  • Bloating

  • Constipation

  • Abdominal pain

  • Rupture of intestines

If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk with your doctor. Your doctor will try to understand what is causing your symptom(s). They may do an exam and order tests to understand the cause of the problem, which is called a diagnosis.

If a desmoid tumor is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of your medical treatment. Managing symptoms may also be called "palliative and supportive care,” which is not the same as hospice care given at the end of life. It is often started soon after diagnosis and continued throughout treatment. This type of care focuses on managing symptoms and supporting people who face serious illnesses, such as cancer. You can receive palliative and supportive care at any time during treatment. Learn more in this guide’s section on Coping With Treatment.

Be sure to talk with your health care team about the symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis. It explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.